The First Sunday in Lent is always about the temptation of Jesus for forty days in the wilderness. Since this is the second year of the three-year lectionary, it is time to hear from Mark’s account of the temptation. So, what does Mark have to say about the temptation? He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. (Mark 1:13) That’s it. That is all that Mark has on the temptation. Matthew has eleven verses of text about the temptation. Luke has thirteen. Mark has half a verse.
The brevity of Mark’s account gives us the chance to examine the flow of events surrounding the temptation. During Matthew’s year and Luke’s year, we tend to hear the account of Jesus’ baptism on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. Then we hear the account of the temptation on the First Sunday in Lent. Unless we take the time to examine the context around the temptation account, we may not notice the relationship between the baptism and the temptation. Not so in Mark.
The concise nature of Mark’s Gospel allows us to hear the account of the baptism and the temptation in one reading on one Sunday morning. In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. (Mark 1:9–13) Mark almost gives the impression that Jesus was still wet with His Baptism when the Spirit drove Him out into the wilderness.
The Greek word translated as drove in the text has two parts. The main part means thrown. The other part means out. You could say that the Spirit threw Jesus out into the wilderness.
We should not think that the Holy Spirit threw Jesus into this temptation against His will. Instead, we should understand that Jesus knew that His mission was to defeat sin, death, and the power of the devil. Jesus knew that this temptation was coming. He knew that this was part of His vocation as our savior. His will and the will of the Holy Spirit were one in agreement.
The proximity of the Baptism and temptation narratives in Mark also provide additional understanding of the purpose of Jesus’ baptism. We covered most of the purposes of Jesus’ baptism on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. However, today’s text gives us one more purpose. When [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10–11) This appearance of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was not just for the benefit of Jesus, John the Baptist, and the other people who witnessed it. It was also an announcement to the demons of this world that the Savior was now on the battlefield.
The idea is that this was an intentional confrontation with the devil. We should not think that the devil noticed Jesus fasting in the desert and thought to himself, “Now that He is hungry, He will be weaker. He will be easier to tempt. This will be a good time to tempt Him.” Instead we should think of Jesus eager to do battle for us and the Holy Spirit encouraging Him into that battle. The leading of the Holy Spirit teaches us that this was not some random encounter between enemies. Instead, the temptation was part of the intentional plan of God at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
Why is this so important? The writer to the Hebrews said, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Why is it important that Jesus was tempted, and why is it important that He did not sin?
Jesus earned our salvation as our substitute. He took our place as the target of God’s wrath on the cross. Just as He took our place on the cross, He must also take our place under the law. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5) In order to be our substitute, He must experience the things we experience. He had the power to come to earth as a fully formed mature man, but He didn’t. He was conceived by the Holy Spirt in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He experienced the same period of gestation that other humans do. He experienced infancy, childhood, adolescence, and so forth. He did not just walk a mile in our shoes. He walked an entire lifetime in our shoes. He did this to be our substitute.
That is what His state of humiliation was all about. He had it within Him to deal with every problem of life with His divine power and authority. However, if He did that, how could He be our substitute. Instead, in His state of humiliation, He dealt with all of life’s difficulties with the same resources available to every other human on the planet. He used His divine power to help others, but He could not be our substitute if He performed a miracle every time He had a problem.
If Jesus is our substitute, He must even experience the same temptations we experience. At the same time, He must do this without sin. When we examine the Old Testament for the laws concerning sacrifices, there is one phrase that appears in the instructions for every animal sacrifice. That phrase is “without blemish.” Whether it is an ox, or a goat, or a ram, it shall be animal shall be “without blemish.” All these sacrifices point forward to Jesus who must be “without blemish.” If He sinned, even just once, His sacrifice on the cross has no meaning. We would still be in our sins. That is the reason we take such comfort in the Apostle Peter’s words: “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18–19) We also take comfort in the words of the centurion who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion and praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) You see, if Christ has even one sin, then He cannot carry your sin. But for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
The Gospel according to Luke informs us that when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13) We should not take this to mean that the devil stopped tempting Jesus at the end of the forty days. Instead, we should understand that the devil only stopped until the next opportunity … that the devil used every opportunity he could to tempt Jesus … that Jesus lived a life full of temptation.
It is good for us to know that Jesus lived a human life just like the rest of us. That life included the same temptations that enter your life. It is good for us to know that, even though Jesus endured temptation, He never sinned. This means that when they raised Him up on the cross, He was your substitute. He carried your sin. He suffered your punishment. He earned your forgiveness.
The ultimate sign that He never sinned was His resurrection. His resurrection assures you that He did all things perfectly. It assures you that His death in your place was a success. It assures you that you will also rise from the dead. It assures you that you will live with Him forever. Amen
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